Zagreb and Zaporozhye qualify through, Celje and Skjern outArticle
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GROUP B REVIEW: Celje and Skjern had to count on victories in round 13 of to keep hoping for a Last 16 berth, but both lost and are out, Zagreb lose to Flensburg but go through too

Zagreb and Zaporozhye qualify through, Celje and Skjern out

Both Skjern Handbold and RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko did not achieve their goals of winning their matches today to keep their hopes alive of a VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 place, as they lost to HC Motor Zaporozhye and Paris Saint-Germain HB respectively. In the other group B encounter today, HC PPD Zagreb lost to SG Flensburg-Handewitt but go through anyway. Zaporozhye and Zagreb will have to wait until the next round of matches to determine which of the two finish fifth and sixth in the group.

PSG had already confirmed their top spot in the group without playing, following Szeged’s defeat in Nantes yesterday but the team of superstars still played seriously in Celje to add another victory to their winning streak.

  • PSG win again, with Luc Abalo scoring nine times in Celje, who William Accambray scored five for
  • Zaporozhye will take part in the Last 16 for the first time since 2016 after beating Skjern
  • Flensburg secured their second away win of the season thanks to amazing performances from goalkeeper Benjamin Buric and winger Hampus Wanne
  • Zagreb can now only finish fifth or sixth in the group, while Flensburg only need a point against Nantes to secure the third spot


HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) 21:22 (11:9)

The first 15 minutes was a fierce battle between the two left-backs of each team, Damir Bicanic and Rasmus Lauge Schmidt. Both of them shot five teams each in the first quarter, but the Croatians proved to be a little more efficient, scoring three, with Zagreb leading by one after the first quarter (5:4), but and a couple of turnovers later, converted by Zagreb’s own Ivan Srsen, saw the hosts break to lead 8:5 (18th minute).

The scoring drought for the visitors did not end there though as they failed to score a single goal in seven minutes despite counting on Hampus Wanne on the wing. Urh Kastelic was in great form between Zagreb’s posts and his performance helped his team pull further away, leading 10:6 (26th) and even though two goals from Johannes Golla helped to lead SG’s reaction right before the break, at half-time, Flensburg were still down by two, 11:9.

If Kastelic’s performance was a good one, then down the opposite end, Benjamin Buric was determined to match his opponent’s antics. Flensburg’s goalkeeper only conceded one goal between the 26th and the 36th minutes, allowing his team-mates to hop back into the game after the break. Enjoying a 7:1 scoring run, they leap-frogged their opponent to take the lead, 13:11, six minutes after coming back from the break.

But that was only a passing phase, as both defences soon decided to shut everything up for the last 15 minutes of the game which made it increasingly harder to score a goal. Playing this game, both teams’ wingers were the best, as Horvat and Mandic answered every goal registered by Wanne. After the Swedish winger scored his ninth goal two minutes before the final whistle, Benjamin Buric proved to be equally as decisive with a save before Anders Zachariassen gave Flensburg their second away win of the season.

“We were well-aware of what was waiting for us here – a young, fighting Zagreb team – and we did everything to prepare the match in the best possible way,” said Maik Machulla, Flensburg coach. “Our offence was not on the right level obviously, but our defence was great, in the end we were maybe a bit luckier.”

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs Paris Saint-Germain HB (FRA) 32:36 (17:17)

Desperately needing success to keep alive their chances to make it to the Last 16, Celje started the game in the best fashion possible. While Paris and Sander Sagosen were struggling on getting the ball past Klemen Ferlin, the locals were focusing on fast-breaks and soon broke away, leading 7:3 after seven minutes, thanks to Igor Anic’s second goal.

The advantage went up to five goals before Paris’ coach Raul Gonzalez decided to take a time-out. “We were surprised in the first half by the home team’s performance,” said Gonzalez after the match. “They played really good defence and were fast in attack, leading all the time.” The pause proved to be an efficient strategy for Gonzalez as his men strengthened their defence, forcing the Slovenians to miss shots, and allowing them to go on a 5:0 scoring run to make it all even at 10:10 after the next five minutes.

If a timeout for the hosts allowed them to shortly break away again, the teams were in fact unable to untie each other and thanks to Luc Abalo’s fifth goal, at half-time, Paris were even with Celje, 17:17.

In the second half, Celje could not match the Paris rhythm - as soon as the locals made a shot, Luc Abalo and Uwe Gensheimer were rushing the other way to score easy goals on fast-breaks and since Nikola Karabatic and Nedim Remili were not missing much in attack, their side soon took the advantage.

“It was hard to play against this kind of team, especially without a left-handed player in the right back position,” said Tomaz Ocvirk, Celje coach. “They saw that and set a 5:1 defence which caused us even more problems. Their goalkeeper was too good to and we were too tired, even though we showed character to played until the end.”

The gap went as high as six goals when Adama Keita scored yet another fast-break (50th minute) and despite William Accambray’s best efforts against his former club, scoring nine in another excellent performance, the locals could not do anything to turn the situation around in the last 10 minutes.

HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs Skjern Handbold (DEN) 33:23 (13:9)

Skjern had to come back with a win from Zaporozhye to still hope for the knock-out stage and in a tight opening quarter it was not until the 13th minute that one of them took a two-goal advantage.

Making the most of a two-minute suspension for Jan Grebenc, Zaporozhye created the first gap, 6:4, by Iurii Kubatko. A few seconds later, a goal by Mateusz Kus gave the hosts a three-goals advantage (8:5).

They managed to retain it until half-time a half in which Barys Pukhouski scored four for the host team while Gennadiy Komok made important saves in the Ukrainian goal. And thanks to another one of these, Zaporozhye went back to the dressing room enjoying the biggest advantage of the game so far, 13:9.

Things did not improve for Skjern at the beginning of the second half despite being one man up twice. Anders Eggert was once again faultless scoring on seven meters for the Danes, but his sides’ defence could not stop their opponents’ efforts, who were soon leading by six, 18:12.

Zaporozhye were unstoppable on attack and the Danish side saw the score grow bigger as time went by as their players were unable to find solutions on both sides of the court.

When the 10-goal difference was reached nine minutes from the end, the locals opened up the bench to let everyone enjoy a little bit of playing time as they could have one eye on taking part in the Last 16 for the first time since 2016. One such player was Motor's left wing Oleksandr Kasai. "It was an honour for me to play against such a team," he said. "It was my first five minutes playing in the VELUX EHF Champions League, and I will not forget them".

TEXT: Kevin Domas/amc